When I first saw the photo of Kendall Jenner from her new Love magazine shoot while scrolling through Instagram, my thought process went as followed: Wow, she looks incredible as per usual, how can I recreate that cat eye??, and yasss #freethenipple. But my heart quickly sank when I saw what was in her hand: a cigarette. The same sensation happened later on that day when I saw the equally gorgeous photo of Bella Hadid that was posted by the magazine with the same accessory in hand. (Apparently, I wasn't the only one to pick up on this.)
I surprised myself with my perhaps over-the-top emotional reaction to the mere sight of a model holding a cigarette as a prop in a sexy photo shoot. After all, despite the fact that smoking is luckily on the decline, living in New York City means that I encounter my fair share of cigarettes on a daily basis. I have friends who are casual smokers and even dated a full-blown cigarette addict for years. I'm also not totally innocent myself: I'm embarrassed to admit that despite my sober moral stance on the issue, I picked up a short-lived Gwyneth Paltrow-like "social" smoking habit during my college years while abroad in Paris (cliché, I know). But despite the possible hypocrisy, seeing a cigarette used as a chic It-girl accessory struck a cord.
The photos reminded me of the black and white photos of my own grandmother from her modeling days (presumably the era this photoshoot was trying to recreate). My grandma was one of the chicest women I ever knew. She had incredible taste, always looked put together, and was referred to as 'sexy' even in her sixties and seventies. She also happened to pick up on one of the most on-trend habits in her teens—smoking—and continued for decades. (Unsurprising considering nicotine addiction is the most common form of chemical dependence according to the CDC, with research showing it's as addictive as cocaine and heroin.) And in 2014, when she was 74 years old, I lost my grandmother from the once-glamorous habit.
The cause was Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, otherwise known as COPD, the umbrella term used to describe progressive lung diseases including emphysema, chronic bronchitis, refractory (non-reversible) asthma, and some forms of bronchiectasis, and is characterized by increasing breathlessness, according to the COPD Foundation. For my grandmother, this meant being unable to do simple things like go grocery shopping without feeling completely out of breath, and needing to use an oxygen tank for the last few years of her life. Despite having quit smoking several years earlier, there was simply no way to turn back time. Although it's hammered into our brains in middle school health class (if not earlier) that cigarette smoke causes irreversible damage, it truly took seeing this firsthand for me to understand. (Not to mention smoking actually affects your DNA—even decades after you quit.)
Sure, it'd be unfair to pin this on Kendall and Bella, or claim they're responsible for the dangerous message portrayed in an artsy photoshoot (one they probably had little creative influence over), but it still makes me angry. It's undeniable that as some of the biggest models in the world right now, they have a massive influence on the buying habits and behaviors of millions of young women through the ad campaigns they participate in and the photos they post to social media (Kendall currently has 73.8 million Instagram followers; Bella has 10.4 million).
Historically, tobacco companies have targeted women with images of slender, glam models that encourage an association between smoking and being slim. Great. While anti-tobacco groups have made strides in fighting against such ads, these editorial photos prove that we, as a society, still have a way to go before we start seeing smoking for the un-cool, unglamorous habit that it is. I'm totally team Kendall and Bella, but I wish these photos didn't help promote a deadly habit that takes the lives of over 200,000 women in the U.S. annually. How about a glass of wine next time?